As it turned out, I did not find a suitable replacement for my laptop. But I did find this laptop at CompUSA, on sale for $399. On the spur of the moment, I decided to get this computer for my wife and retired the old Toshiba laptop to our basement. It is now attached to a scanner I have there and serves as a dedicated scanner workstation! My Dell laptop continues to serve me as I continue scanning online and off for a replacement for it.
The computer is currently unavailable from Amazon.com. I have no idea whether it will become available at Amazon.com in the future. It is available in various bundled configurations from CompUSA at prices ranging from about $650 to about $800. It is probably available from other computer and electronics stores at comparable prices.
The computer came in a plain brown cardboard box. Inside the box was the laptop itself, the power cord in two pieces, the battery and a slim ziploc bag with some documentation. Unpacking and putting the laptop together was trivial. I am not familiar with Windows 7, this being the first laptop I have ever bought with that operating system on it, but it was reasonably intuitive and I had no problem setting it up for use by my wife. There was virtually no junkware on the computer that had to be uninstalled. So, setup was a breeze in that respect. I did download and install Avast anti-virus on it, turn on windows updates and the built-in windows firewall, and it was good to go.
Let me start with the specifications of the laptop itself.
- AMD Turion II P520 Processor running at 2.30 GHz
- 4 GB DDR3 Memory
- AMD ATI Mobility Radeon M92-S2 XT graphics card with 512MB video memory
- 320 GB Hard Drive (if this laptop had been available with a 500 GB HDD at the same price, I would have made it the replacement computer I was hunting for, and handed down my used computer to my wife)
- Preloaded with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OS
- 1366x768 14-inch LED-backlit glossy screen
- 0.3 MP webcam with built-in microphones
- 802.11 b/g/n wi-fi
- Optical drive that can read and write most flavors of CD's and DVD's (only single layer)
- 3 USB 2.0 ports (including 1 powered USB port which can power devices whenever the computer is plugged in even if the computer is not on), 1 USB/eSATA combo port, 1 HDMI port, 1 Ethernet LAN port, 1 VGA out port, 1 headphone jack, 1 Express Card slot
- 6 cell Li-ion battery which can power the laptop for up to 4 hours
- Card reader slot that can read Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Multi Media Card, SecureDigital High Capacity, xD-Picture Card Type H, Secure Digital, and xD-Picture Card
- Spill-resistant keyboard
- Just under 5 lbs with the battery, without the power cord
- 1.25" to 1.5" thick when closed, and 9" x 13.5" in length and width
The first thing you notice about this computer is the complete lack of LED's on this computer. There is a Red LED that forms the dot on top of the "i" in Thinkpad both outside the computer and below the keyboard of this laptop on the inside. There is another green LED right next to the power port to indicate whether the computer is getting power from the power cord. However this LED does not change color to indicate battery charging status or anything else. There are no other LED's to indicate hard drive activity, wi-fi on/off status or availability, battery status, etc., etc. It does not even have a Caps Lock light! This was really weird at first, but I have gotten used to it over time.
The outside top of the laptop as well as the screen are bright and shiny. This means that they smudge easily, and attract and retain fingerprints quite well!
The keyboard is a modern chiclet-style keyboard. The keys stand up from a flat background with small gaps between them. Some models of Lenovo Thinkpad Edge have keyboard lighting, but this model does not. The keyboard is easy to use, and the whole thing feels quite solid even though everything is still plastic! There is no dedicated numerical keypad.
At the bottom edge of the keyboard, at the center of the hand rest is the over-sized touchpad. There are left and right mouse buttons below as well as above the touchpad. Also above the touchpad is a middle mouse button which you can use for scrolling, etc. The keys feel solid when pressed. In addition to the touchpad, there is also the trademark Lenovo eraser-type mouse control in the middle of the keyboard. I have never gotten used to this because I have never had it on any other computer I have owned, and I had difficulty controlling the mouse pointer using this eraser-type control. But the touchpad was excellent and allowed fine control of the mouse. The touchpad is multi-touch capable and understands multi-finger gestures for scrolling, rotating, zooming in, zooming out, etc.
The screen is gorgeous and has excellent contrast and brightness. The controls for screen brightness are linked to dedicated keys on the top row of the keyboard. In addition to screen brightness, there is a row of such dedicated keys to also control volume, media playback, wi-fi on/off status, etc. In short, there are practically no hardware switches of any type, and everything is controlled by the software. On most computers, the hardware controls are enabled by pressing the Fn key along with the appropriate function key (F1 through F12). On this computer, you have to press the Fn key to get the F1 through F12 functions. The actual hardware controls have taken over the primary function of these keys. This is very smart since very few pieces of software still use the F1 through F12 function keys (if you really need the F1 through F12 functions to take precedence, you can switch how these keys work in the BIOS setup screen). There is on-screen confirmation of most actions you take using the dedicated keyboard controls.
The laptop has very good speakers that put out a good amount of volume. My wife particularly likes this aspect of the laptop because other laptops she has used occasionally have been so weak in this department that she has had to strain to hear the audio coming out of their speakers. She is a big consumer of online media like Youtube, and she hates laptops with weak speakers!
On the left hand side of the computer are the VGA port, the USB/eSATA combination port, the headphone jack, HDMI port and the express card slot (type 34). On the back of the computer is one USB port. On the right hand side of the computer are 2 more USB ports, the optical drive, and the power plug. On the front of the computer is the card slot that can accept and read 7 different types of cards. On top of the screen, in its usual place, is the integrated webcam with two microphones on either side.
The headphone jack is a combination headphone/microphone jack. There is no separate microphone jack on this computer. So, if you have headsets with 2 pin connectors, you can not use them on this laptop. I have not looked around for availability of single-pin headsets, but you need one of those (or you can use the headphone jack for audio out and use the built-in microphone for audio in).
DVD playback is excellent, and the computer comes preloaded with the latest version of Intervideo WinDVD player. Unfortunately, the optical drive can only burn single-layer DVD's not dual-layer DVD's. The laptop's screen has no latches. The hinges are designed to keep the lid closed fully after the lid is closed beyond a certain point, and to keep the lid open after it is opened beyond a certain point.
So far, the computer has performed to expectations. It runs quite cool, and the processor is very powerful. The presence of abundant amounts of RAM helps with performance too. Not that it is being stressed much, since my wife is not a power user of computers. But if needed, this laptop can perform quite well without wilting under pressure. DVD playback has been excellent, showing off the excellent screen quality. There have been no problem DVD's, with the built-in software able to handle the latest and greatest in copy protections that the studios seem to invent with no regard for compatibility with older players.
The computer's documentation is almost entirely online. The documentation that does come with the laptop is just a 2-page leaflet explaining how to start the computer up the first time, and a slightly thicker booklet that is mostly filled with legalese such as the warranty information. It does have information about how to get help from the help files on the computer, as well as from Lenovo's own website and has a list of phone numbers in various countries in case you need to contact Lenovo. In short, nothing substantial related to the laptop that you can sit down with and sink your teeth into.
The online documentation is also quite pathetic. Most chapters seem to be stubs with no substantial information added to them. For instance, the chapter on the built-in webcam reads verbatim as follows (in its entirety):
Your computer may have an integrated low-light enhanced camera (USB2.0 Camera). The following features may be available:
- Capture video
- Take a picture
- Manage your photos and videos
- Start a video conference
None of these are links to other parts of the documentation. They are just plain text entries. There is no explanation of how to even turn the webcam on, leave alone how to accomplish any of the stuff listed above! As I said, pathetic does not even begin to describe the state of documentation for this laptop!! I would give this laptop at least a one-star demerit for such absurdly poor written documentation. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic in this day and age.
The laptop hard drive does have a recovery partition. I know because the 2-page leaflet mentions it, but the recovery instructions are not in the leaflet! They are on the computer and you have to read up on it only when the computer is on. If you can not boot up the computer, you better hope the instructions are online somewhere where Google can get to them! The leaflet does mention that you should create a recovery DVD if you want to remove the recovery partition and recover the hard disk space for you own use. At present, the hard disk contains hardly anything, so I don't plan on doing that anytime soon!
Battery life is an exaggeration, as usual. If you do pretty much nothing on the computer, it does last 4 hours (or even more) as Lenovo claims. But if you actually use the computer while it is running on battery power, you are more likely to get about 3 hours of use out of it. This is pretty standard for battery life claims from manufacturers, and it is annoying, but not egregious.
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of this laptop.
- Powerful CPU with good graphics capability
- Abundant memory
- Dedicated video card with lots of graphics memory
- Good-sized hard drive
- Excellent screen
- Built-in webcam and microphone
- Excellent, loud built-in speakers
- Lots of USB ports, and the ability to get power from the USB ports even when the computer is not fully on
- eSATA, expressCard slot and 7-in-1 card reader
- HDMI output port
- Good multi-touch capable touchpad, with two sets of mouse buttons, including a middle mouse button
- Eraser-type mouse controller in the middle of the keyboard
- Stylish spill-resistant chiclet keyboard
- Light enough to lug around effortlessly
- No junkware, making setup easy and effortless
- Very poor printed documentation (and the online documentation is not very thorough or detailed either)
- No LED's to indicate information about the state of different systems on the computer
- The power cord (and the ethernet plug if you are forced to use a wired connection to the internet) plugs into one side of the computer, so depending on where you plug the computer in, the power cord snakes all around the laptop
- No bluetooth or blu-ray disc drive. Given the HD capabilities of the computer, including its high-resolution screen and HDMI output port, the lack of a blu-ray disc drive is somewhat mystifying
- No dual-layer DVD burner
- No firewire ports
Overall, I would rate this laptop a solid 4 out of 5 stars. I would have given it higher marks but for the appalling lack of printed documentation (and the poor quality of the online documentation). There isn't even any way to download a good user manual for this laptop from the Lenovo website. Apart from that oversight, this is an extremely good laptop, especially at this price point. The laptop seems light, well put-together and is powerful enough to retain its usefulness for a while. And the large hard drive should help in this respect also. Overall, this is well worth the money I spent on it and hope to get several years of use out of it.